"Land of Mine" got well and truly off the ground in September at the Toronto Film Festival as film reporters were full of praises for Martin Zandvliet's drama exposing a dark chapter in Danish post-war history.
On 3 December, the film was up in Danish theatres, with local critics expressing equally warm views of the story about a Danish Sergeant named Rasmussen, played by Roland Møller, and a group of young German POWs forced to clear Danish beaches of landmines right after the war.
As the film's US premiere at the Sundance Film Festival (21-31 January) is upon us, here is a roundup of reactions from international critics these past few months:
At this point it might seem hard to find a World War II story that hasn’t been told, but Danish director Martin Zandvliet has come up with a fresh and compelling approach to this well-traveled territory. (…) The film works as a moving anti-war essay and as a gripping thriller.
One of the film’s chief assets is the performance of (Roland) Moller, who takes us along on a credible emotional journey as Rasmussen gradually and almost grudgingly comes to recognize the vulnerability of his young charges. His moral awakening is handled subtly, without the slightest hint of sentimentality.
Land of Mine. Photo: Henrik Petit
Zandvliet's script and direction avoid milking an innately loaded situation for excess melodrama or pathos, sticking to a discreet economy of approach that accumulates considerable power.
'Land of Mine' is essentially apolitical, showing that at a long war's end, both sides are simply embittered and exhausted. The German boys are sacrificial lambs very far from the criminal decision making of their Nazi superiors, while the Allied military and Danish citizens here struggle to regain any sense of empathy after five years' occupation.
The sand dunes of Denmark's Skallingen peninsula (finally declared mine-free in 2012) are a huge canvas for cinematographer Camilla Hjelm Knudsen, the director’s wife, who evokes a desert-like vastness reminiscent of a David Lean landscape for boys forced into a labour of futility.
This elegantly cruel Danish drama stirs 'The Hunger Games' into World War II.
Land of Mine. Photo: Nordisk Film
Zandvliet has succeeded in making a visually strong, nerve-wracking film with a fabulous cast, recalling the suspense of such films as the classic 'The Wages of Fear' and Steven Spielberg's 'Jaws.' He shows us the humane side of war: how the initially brutish Sergeant starts to respect and appreciate the young Germans.
Ann Hornaday, The Washington Post:
You did to sand what Steven Spielberg did to water!
(reaction at a screening in Toronto)
Zandvliet captures the phenomena of human bonding quite elegantly, the inevitability of empathy when one grows to regard other people as actual beings.
The scenario is by nature a nail-bitingly tense one – one wrong move and a mine will explode – but the film is gratifyingly much more than an exercise in suspense, it's a rich character study and a moving story of human connection.
'Land of Mine' is a rewarding and humane film.
Revised version of update first published December 2015.